There’s a hidden and historically significant gem located uptown here in New York City: the Morris-Jumel mansion, which is advertised as Manhattan’s oldest house. It also happens to be the site of George Washington’s original office during the first part of the Revolutionary War (there’s a placard describing one of the rooms upstairs as “Washington’s War Room”) and is where he hosted his very first cabinet dinner back in 1790 with a few Founding Father luminaries like Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.
Thanks to my drinking the colonial kool-aid while an undergraduate at the UNESCO World Heritage site aka the Jefferson-founded University of Virginia, and living and working there for a number of years after graduating, I have a special affinity for that time period, particularly when it comes to the food heritage. The stately architecture doesn’t hurt either.
When I heard about a “gardening crafts for adults” event taking place at Morris-Jumel this past weekend I obviously couldn’t pass it up.
After exploring the house, my friends and I linked up with the other attendees as well as the staff gardener, Karen, to start collecting flowers and herbs in order to get crafty.
Apparently the aim of colonial medicine was to maintain or restore the balance of humors in the body (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile — pleasant), and various herbs were thought to remedy certain ailments.
It didn’t hurt that herbs generally smelled a whole lot nicer than the sweaty and generally unhygienic colonials themselves, so remedies from days of yore often simply instructed people to strew herbs around to rid the room or space of noxious odors. As a 2016 resident of Manhattan, I wholeheartedly support bringing this practice back into fashion.
We collected all sorts of lovely goodies — tarragon, fennel, oregano, lavender, lovage, sage, mint, thyme — and then turned our attention to the beautiful wildflower bed around the other side of the house. Here we picked some items purely for their decorative qualities.
Then we stepped back in time about 225 years – er, traipsed to the amazingly preserved colonial kitchen in the building’s basement.
Karen had set up three stations for us: tea satchel making, soap making, and oil infusions.
I seriously think I was in a meditative state grinding herbs for my satchel,
pressing flowers to be added into soap,
Good humors were most definitely restored!
I’ve already been using my garlic, oregano and thyme infused oil and will be making more.
The process was as simple as heating up some of the herbs in the oil to flavor it, and simultaneously and separately blanching some of the herbs to shock the color into staying put.
The herbs that had been cooked with the oil were strained out, while the blanched herbs were added directly in to the bottle,
to create an aesthetically pleasing result.
We were also ridiculously delighted with how our soaps turned out.
Such a fun/nerdy/wholesome day of craftiness.
Until next time, Morris-Jumel.